Why Good Design is Essential When Opening a New Dental Practice

When opening a new dental practice, it can feel like there are a million things to plan for and then actually get done.

Not only do you have to make sure that your equipment and staffing needs are met, you also need to secure financing, develop your marketing campaign and business plan, implement dental software and apply for necessary permits and licenses. All of this can make it hard to keep your eye on the big picture – creating a welcoming, streamlined service for your patients.

But when it comes to launching a new practice, ensuring that your clinic is well-designed should be at the top of your checklist for opening. In this article, I’ll explain why.

Good Design Shapes Everything

Design is one of those words that gets used so much and has such a broad definition that it can sometimes lose its meaning. And maybe this isn’t surprising, given that “design” is used to talk about everything from operatory workflow to what kind of light bulbs you use in your reception area.

I find that it is helpful to think about design – whether you’re talking about floor plan, lighting, or dental practice management software – in terms of how it enables you to meet your goals more effectively.

The difference between good design and bad design is specific to what you are trying to accomplish. There is no such thing as “good design” in the abstract: all dental office design should be based on helping you serve your patients better.

What to Consider When Designing a Clinic

So, if design is so important, how can you make sure your new dental practice meets the mark?

There are no one-size-fits all solutions, and what works best for you will depend on a number of different considerations, including:

  • The number of staff members you have
  • The number of patients you see every day
  • Any special equipment you may require
  • The physical constraints of your location
  • How you prefer to work
  • Enabling patient centric workflows

First and foremost, your design should help make your patients feel at ease. Fear of the dentist is one of the most common phobias, and creating a pleasant and comfortable space will go along way toward assuaging patient anxiety.

Here are a few general principles you can keep in mind when designing your clinic space:

  • Form should follow function (i.e., layout should reflect the needs of your staff and patients).
  • Patient safety should always be a major concern.
  • Design should create a sense of trust and comfort.
  • Always take your dental software system into consideration when designing floor plans and workstations so you can maximize efficiency and plan appropriately for tech infrastructure.
  • Design should reflect your values and priorities. If your clinic serves a particular demographic (e.g. children), that should be reflected in your design decisions!

How to Find a Great Designer

While it is important to do some research into what makes for good clinic design, at the end of the day you shouldn’t expect to be able to do all the design work yourself.

Instead, you should put your energy into finding a dental office designer you can work with, someone who understands your needs and knows how to make your unique vision a reality while also putting their own expertise at your service.

Look for a designer who understands these basic principles of design:

1. Designing with real life in mind

During the design process, ‘space planning’ should come first. This includes defining staff and patient circulation patterns, blocking out important spatial areas, and planning placement of both furniture as well as equipment. Space planning early in the design phase will create efficiency at every iterative step afterward.

2. Have thorough knowledge of materials and construction

The quality of construction and the materials used have a considerable effect on how a patient will experience a finished room. The cost of the materials is not as important as durability. When budgeting, it is prudent to remember that the best materials should keep the space looking fresh for many years.

3. Juxtapose contrasting design elements

By combining different shapes, patterns, and textures, the interplay of one can enhance the innate properties of another. Visual value comes from the interaction of several design principles woven together.

Of course, most designers bring a keen eye, and when designing for a specialty space such as a dental clinic, you’ll need to look out for more than just competence. When looking for a designer, here are some of the most important things to consider:

  • Experience in Healthcare: Designing a clinic isn’t like designing a standard office space, so make sure you find someone who understands the unique needs of a dental practice – in particular, functional room requirements and typical procedural workflows
  • Ability to Work as Part of a Team: Your designer will have to work closely with equipment specialists, dental planners, and contractors.
  • A Safety-Conscious Approach: Over the past few years has been increased attention to the importance of creating a safe environment for dental patients and that also meets requirements for effective infection control. Make sure any designers you opt to work with understand the importance of this, and can incorporate safety features into their plans.
  • Long Term Thinking: You want a work space that can change and evolve over time. Make sure you work with a designer who can help you create a dental clinic that can serve your needs and the needs of your patients for years to come.  

There’s a popular saying among designers that good design is invisible. If something has been well designed, it will be so intuitive and easy to use that you won’t even think about it. This is definitely true for dental clinics. A clinic where everything is in its right place will provide a comfortable and welcoming space for your patients, and make it easy for you and your staff to focus on what you do best: providing them with the best healthcare possible. 

4 Ways Dental Clinics Can Improve Security Awareness

Most dentists I know have dozens of things to keep track of even on the slowest day, and it’s not surprising that cyber security is often far down the list of concerns of the clinics that I talk to.   

Unfortunately, cyber criminals seem to be taking advantage of this situation: cyber attacks now impact hundreds of dental offices in the United States alone every year. In some cases, these attacks are so devastating that they cause clinics to close for an extended period while they prepare to start seeing patients again.  

Fortunately, protecting yourself from common forms of cybercrime like phishing, malware, and ransomware is fairly straightforward, if you have the right software and a staff trained to recognize potential threats.  

Here are four ways you can improve security and training at your clinic this year.   

1. Make Cyber Security Part of Your Practice

We all have a tendency to believe that things like cyber attacks won’t happen to us. Psychologists call this the “optimism bias“. And while it makes it easier for us to go through life, it can also leave us vulnerable.  

Countering optimism bias requires that you train your workers to view cyber threats not as something that could theoretically happen, but as something they should be on the look out for every day.  

Normalizing cyber security routines that require weekly check-ins and following digital best practices are the first steps you should take to guide your staff to be more aware of the danger of cyber attacks.  

2. Help Your Employees Recognize the Risks

Phishing is a form of cybercrime in which targets are contacted through text, email, or by phone with the phisher posing as a legitimate institution. Phishing scams will take advantage of this familiarity in order to pry sensitive data such as banking and credit card info, passwords, or answers to security questions. 

Here are some of the most common signs that you might be dealing with a phishing scam: 

  • Requests for personal financial information 
  • Poor grammar and bad spelling 
  • Threatening language (e.g. “Your account will be closed if you don’t act now!”) 
  • Suspicious links (e.g. nonsense links, or links to misleading domain names) 
  • Unrecognized senders 

To avoid falling victim to phishing scams, be wary of messages that carry a false sense of urgency and ignore any links you may be asked to follow. Remember, your bank or any other professional institution will never ask you to login by phone or by following prompts other than the ones you’ve used in the past.  

You should also be aware that criminals are constantly developing new viruses and attack methods in order to continue to attacking the vulnerable. Cyber criminals have been using email as a vector for infecting computer systems with malware and ransomware for years, but they have also started to use social media apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, and iMessage to launch their attacks.  

Ransomware is a method of cybercrime where malicious software or malware is designed to deny a company access to their own servers or internal systems until a ransom is paid. Ransomware can be a follow-up attack to a phishing attempt and can be devastating for mid-sized, data-based companies like dental clinics. 

To avoid succumbing to this form of attack, be sure to continually update your computer Operating System (OS) and anti-virus software with the latest patches and do not click on links or open any attachments sent in unsolicited email. Most of us are fairly trusting and scammers use this behaviour against us by sending emails that can seem legitimate or harmless. Train your staff to recognize these warning signs, and report any unusual messages.   

3. Make Regular Backups Part of Your Routine

It’s not always possible to avoid cyber attacks altogether, so it’s also important to ensure that you’ll be able to bounce back quickly if the worst does happen.  

Dental clinics need to keep track of huge amounts of data, the loss of which can be absolutely disastrous. For this reason, you should make regular backups a mainstay of your routine.  

Look for sophisticated cloud storage solutions that automate backups and come with expert support, so that if the worst does happen, you’ll be ready to pick up where you left off.  

4. Use Software that Enhances Cyber Security Capabilities

When you’re looking for software solutions that can help you make cyber security easier and more efficient for your employees, you should look for tools that will mesh well and supplement your anti-virus software for additional protection. Solutions such as ABEL Guard (AppGuard with ABEL’s dental specific templates) prevents new viruses from harming your system until your anti-virus software is updated to eliminate those viruses. 

Also consider switching to a dental cloud server based platform that by default will provide maximum protection against cyberattacks since practice data is stored in and assessed from secure cloud servers – an added benefit is automated continuous data backups are always current should your practice data ever need to be restored for any reason.  

In conclusion:

It is best to be proactive and stay one step ahead of cyber criminals as much as possible. Make sure you have antivirus and additional security software for maximum protection as well as employed a cloud-based backup system to limit any negative effects should you be hit by an attack.  

During my time at ABEL, I have become convinced that a combination of the right tools and the right training can make all the difference when it comes to keeping your clinic safe from attacks. Get in touch with us today if you want to learn more about how we can help you improve your security and security awareness.  

5 Ways to Make Your Clinic More Child-Friendly

Of all the different kinds of patients that a dental clinic serves, perhaps none are as precious as children. This is true in terms of the opportunity for early intervention and the value these patients can bring to a clinic. 

Because appealing to children is also a great way to appeal to their parents, there are clear benefits to tailoring your service to this demographic. Some clinics even go so far as to use child centered service as one of the ways they manage practice differentiation – parents are much more likely to visit a clinic if it explicitly markets itself as being kid-friendly.

To make your clinic more open to children, here are five strategies that I have personally seen succeed in clinics across the country. 

1. Recognize the Unique Needs of Child Patients

Children aren’t like adult patients: not only do they have unique needs in terms of the dental care they require, they also have unique service needs. Making your clinic child-friendly starts with recognizing the fact that children need highly individual treatment.  

One  practical way you can accomplish this is by using dental software that allows you to quickly and easily store information about young patients’ needs so that it is immediately visible once an appointment has been booked.

This helps you provide great service and makes it easier for your receptionists and hygienists to prepare accordingly.

2. Provide Child-Specific Training for Staff

Getting your team to understand how the needs of children differ from the needs of adults is absolutely essential. And while your dentists and hygienists will have been trained on the technical aspects of caring for young mouths, treating children also requires training in how to relate to and communicate with them when they may not be able to respond in detailed or specific ways.

It’s essential when talking to children that you avoid using medical jargon to keep your words a simple as possible so children are more likely to understand you and feel encouraged to respond and communicate back in turn. However, you still need to use care when speaking with children because they may not be using their communication skills to their fullest out of fear of dental procedures in general. Quietly coax them into talking, showing them that there’s no reason to be afraid.

With older children, it’s important you do not treat them as babies, but rather as young adults as much as possible. Of course, you’ll need to consider the age of each child patient and adjust your speech to meet his or her needs.

Make sure also to keep your tone of voice measured and soft. Especially when you’re using tools that can sometimes be painful, a soothing tone of voice will do wonders for abating your child patients’ level of fear. Ensure that your entire staff keeps the collective tone consistent. This will help children understand that everyone is there to care for them and make them feel safe.

3. Appealing to Kids Means Appealing to Parents

Whether or not you retain a young family as patients will undoubtedly be influenced by the experience the child has – but the final decision will, of course, be made by the parent. This means that making your clinic more child-centered also means appealing to their parents.

You can accomplish this by creating a space that is welcoming and accessible and by providing parents the opportunity to book or reschedule appointments quickly – via mobile app or text, for example.

4. Use Positive Reinforcement to Reduce Dental Fear

As every experienced dentists knows, dental anxiety is an issue for patients of all ages. But it is a special concern when working with children, who aren’t as able to regulate or manage their fear of pain or discomfort that may be associated with visiting the dentist.

Put special effort into positive reinforcement for younger patients that will help them to associate visits to the dentist with pleasant experiences like fun cartoons or after-treatment treats.

5. Make Your Reception Area Dynamic

We’ve all visited clinics where the only gesture toward accommodating children is a small bucket of second-hand toys and no room for kids to play with them. If you want parents to feel comfortable bringing their kids to your clinic, you need to put some real thought into making your reception area kid-friendly.

Fortunately, it’s easy to find affordable and fun designs online that can help you communicate to patients that your clinic takes the needs of children (and their parents!) seriously. 

Children are not going to be a key demographic for every dental clinic. But even if young people don’t make up the majority of your patient base, your practice will still benefit by being as inclusive as possible. For this reason, adopting some of these strategies for making your clinic appeal to your littlest patients is a great way of showing that you offer an open and welcoming space to patients of all ages.